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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Lipsomb's, a Log Cabin, and a Legacy Lost (Part 2)

Before reading the conclusion of this story, please visit my prior post on the Lipscomb’s (Part 1) by clicking here: The Lipscomb's, a Log Cabin, and a Legacy Lost (Part 1)

"Jayhawkers", courtesy of the Library of Congress

August 1863

The horse’s hooves echoed throughout the hills as daybreak approached. John Harris Lipscomb and his father, Joel shuffled to the closest window to see who was approaching their home. His seven slaves, tucked nearby in the slave cabin, surely could sense there was something amiss.

Paranoia was perfectly acceptable with the events that were unfolding in Jackson County. He knew he was being forced from his land due to his loyalty to the South. He had run through every scenario in case a situation like this emerged.

Joel knew he couldn’t escape safely to the south down the well-traveled roads - and hiding in his woods wouldn’t work this time. He’d done that before with success, living for weeks camouflaged in the landscape when the Civil War first broke out.

This time could possibly be more urgent. Order No. 11 sealed his fate and the Jayhawkers were after blood after Lawrence was sacked. They were here.

They were hunting him.

He was a sitting duck and he knew it. Calling over his shoulder, he told his son to go to the back of the house. He could see that this visit wasn't going to be friendly. 

A fleet of Kansas Jayhawkers were at his door, and he had no way to escape. He raised his hands above his head after slowly opening the door, knowing he was outnumbered.

These Jayhawkers pushed into the home, shoving Joel out of the way. They slurred profanities and pugnaciously suggested that they “knew” he had hidden guerilla rebels at his home- guerillas that were responsible for so much violence on Kansas soil. They showed him little mercy.

Hangman's noose (Shutterstock)
13-year-old John Harris Lipscomb could do nothing as this traumatic event unfolded. He observed in terror as these vicious men took vengeance out on the furniture of the house, smashing it into pieces, tossing it throughout the well-furnished residence.

They weren’t done yet.

Joel was pushed out into the backyard as one Jayhawker threw a rope over a limb. Joel was then interrogated further with a noose tied around his neck.

“Damnit! Tell us the whereabouts of Quantrill!”

Joel, squeezing his eyes shut, wishing the nightmare to be over, quietly but forcibly stated, “I don’t know anything.”

Unsatisfied, the Jayhawkers strung him up and hanged him midair.

Gasping for breath, choking on his words and clinching his hands to the tightened rope around his neck, Joel struggled for minutes, blacking out from the lack of oxygen.

On the edge of death, the Jayhawkers let him down.

John Harris Lipscomb screamed for mercy, aware that this could be the end of the story of his father. “Ya better talk, God dammit!” they commanded as Joel’s eyes opened and he emerged from the darkness and back to this hellish setting.

John Harris had a front row seat as his father was strung up three times and then was left for dead.

Uncharacteristically, the Jayhawkers departed with the livestock yet left his house standing... and left Joel somewhere between life and death.

Joel's son drug his unconscious father inside the home and stood vigil over his body. His father stayed completely still, lifeless and defeated. After some time, Joel began to emerge from this coma.

Foggy and fearing future implications on his family, Joel spent the evening deciding if his plan of action was even feasible.

In the morning, he loaded his seven slaves into the wagon and set off to a more peaceful country in the south-


John Harris grabbed limited belongings and headed north to his mother’s family and to rejoin his sisters and brother there, not knowing whether he would ever see his father again.

The war had become shockingly real and had already ripped this family into unrecognizable pieces.*


The Harris House Hotel that stood at Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue served as Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis' command post. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections

As you learned in Part 1, Joel Lipscomb is quite the epitome of the Jackson County pioneer. One of the first settlers of the area, he was, before the war, revered as one of the most respectable gentlemen in Washington Township.

His children, Nathan and William, were off fighting in the Civil War for the southern cause. His other children, Frances, Louisa, Rodney Bernard and James were sent for safekeeping  to stay with his father and mother-in-law, John and Henrietta Harris in Westport.

Missouri Valley Special Collections
On two occasions, the Harris House Hotel was taken over by Union soldiers. In 1861, the family was kicked out of their Mansion House (the current 1855 Harris-Kearney House and Museum) and had to move into their hotel. They were forced to work alongside their slaves and serve "the enemy."

The children had been nicknamed by Union soldiers as “the rebel children” because of their father’s deep connection to the Southern cause.

By 1862, they were back in the Mansion House. The children, including John Harris Lipscomb, who had seen his father almost murdered in front of his eyes, then moved in with their uncle, William Bernard, whose home was on Pennsylvania near 38th Street.

While his “rebel children” were living in a cloud of suspicion in Westport, Joel met his son, Nathan in Texas in late 1863- with his seven slaves in tow.

Nathan had news to share, and he knew it was going to break his father’s heart.

William S. Lipscomb, oldest son and 2nd lieutenant of Company A, 6th Missouri infantry, Confederate States of America, was killed months earlier at the Battle of Vicksburg on June 25, 1863. Nathan had been on that same battlefield when his brother fell.

Tragedy tended to follow Joel and rear its ugly head.

As the history books detail, the war whittled on, washing havoc, death and destruction upon the crumbling “United” States. Nathan stayed with his father until the spring of 1864 and then rejoined the Confederates in Van Buren, Arkansas.

Nathan was later shot through his left foot at Jenkins’ Ferry and hid from the enemy in the woods for a month.

The battle across Brush Creek, as depicted in a
 mural displayed at the Missouri State Capital

Now that is dedication… and sounds a lot like his dad.

During the Battle of Westport, the girls hunkered down in the upstairs bedrooms of the Mansion House while John Harris Lipscomb was at the hotel watching these horrific events unfold.

The war was lost. The Confederate downfall and the termination of slavery brought far-reaching changes in the lives of all Southerners, especially those so intertwined and fully immersed in the cause that was deeply rooted in their backwards belief system.

Most white Southerners reacted to defeat and emancipation with dismay. No doubt that Joel felt lost, his very livelihood lurched away from him. He had suffered the loss of his son and was returning from Texas to his land with pennies in his pockets….

--- and with seven newly emancipated slaves.

Yep, that’s right. Joel came back from Texas with his son around Christmastime 1865…. with his newly freed slaves.


We can only speculate, but one pretty valid reason is those freshly emancipated human beings were forced to Texas, an unknown land to them, by their master.

And now they were FREE- but thousands of miles away from relatives. I’d presume they came back with him in hopes of reunification with family. Plus, Joel needed labor.

And they needed jobs.

Joel returned to his farm just north of New Santa Fe to find it, along with his home, completely destroyed. The only thing that seemed to have been left standing on his land was the cabin he had fashioned for his slaves.

So that was where he stayed, with all seven of his surviving children.

Document signed January 11, 1865 abolishing slavery in Missouri 

In a firsthand account, John Harris Lipscomb stated, “Since they weren’t slaves anymore, Father had to pay them a wage for working on the farm.  They didn’t stay put long, and in two weeks all were gone, except Nancy who stayed to watch after the girls and tend the house.  Father paid her $10.00 a month until the money ran out, then my sisters did the cleaning and the cooking.”

Joel had to start completely over. Losing everything to the war, a slave cabin that once housed his chattel would have to make due as a home. 

I bet that was humbling.

According to his daughter, Frances, her father borrowed money at 24 percent interest in order to rebuild.

As his children grew, most marrying and moving out of his home, Joel reverted to a peaceful life. Just after Christmas in 1893, at the ripe age of 82 and 30 years after he fled to Texas in fear of his life, Joel died suddenly at his home -the former slave cabin- of heart disease.

In his obituary in the Kansas City Star, it is stated, “He was an honest man, one of strong character, and was highly esteemed by his neighbors.”

Although we today may not agree with the politics and personal viewpoints of men like Joel, we need to see his story as one of tremendous courage, venerated spirit and undying loyalty. After a war that ruined much of the area, Joel humbly moved his family into a former slave cabin, stopping at nothing to rebuild his respected farm.

So what happened to this little slave house?

Around 1906, the Lipscomb’s sold their father’s land to the Ridenour family. They had plans to section out the land and build up the area we now know as Red Bridge Road.

That quaint shanty home stood there, abandoned.

In 1930, a group of ladies looking for a place to picnic and enjoy the countryside stumbled upon a little house in need of repair. With the help of a group, they “cleaned, painted and decorated it.” They aptly nicknamed it “the shack.”

The Joel Lipscomb "shack" as it looked in 1930
Why does this excite me so much? Well, the more one looks into the violent history of Jackson County, the more one realizes that not much from the past is actually left standing.

An article in the Kansas City Star from December 21, 1930 led to further interest about the old Lipscomb farmstead. It stated, “Just recently a tenant farmer turned over a big rock near ‘the shack’ and unearthed a bag of very old coins- probably hidden there in the Civil War days.”

Wait... What?!

Could those be coins that Joel or his family hid from the Jayhawkers? Possibly. But we will never know for sure.

Henry L. Wagner
I was fascinated by the idea that this house stood into the 1930s. I was elated when further research showed the house stood much, much longer than that.

The little old Lipscomb log cabin, originally erected for slaves, got an intense makeover in 1941 when Jennie L. Sweet, Kansas City socialite and mother of lumberman R.L. Sweet, decided to take a risk on an old, rickety house.

She did a complete overhaul of the place. As it was fashionable at the time, she bought it to be a summer home.

Jennie hired Henry L. Wagner, a well-known Kansas City architect, and added a bedroom to the west side of the structure, painted the whole residence and enlarged the south porch. Wagner was careful to reuse many of the old fixtures, preserving the floor and even reclaiming the original stone steps by moving them to a different portion of this newly refurbished home.

The Lipscomb log cabin remodeled and as it looked in 1941
As I read these articles and formed my case, my enthusiasm mounted. I couldn’t believe that this house may, in fact, be still standing!

I drove the developed area, looked for clues... and I thought I had found the house. I even contacted the owner of a home at 1315 Red Bridge Road (Lot 7 of Homewood Ridenour Addition) that looked like it could possibly be the cabin disguised behind modern siding and elevated roof lines.

Because these original records didn’t include specific addresses, I wasn’t sure exactly where the home was, but I had convinced myself that this one had to be it. I knew this piece of land was on Lipscomb land. We toured the rental property with the owner, Courtney.

My home inspector and partner in crime, Steve Hodgden, came along for the ride to do a quick once-over on the home, and he reluctantly told me he didn’t think it was the house.

To be sure, you need to go to the archives,” Steve matter-of-factly stated.

Yes! I’d go to the archives and prove my doubters wrong! I could trace the deed and the division of land!

A trip to the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds office had me a wee bit sulky that day.

Subdivision plat by Ridenour showing Lot 9
I hate being wrong.

Steve-1, Diane-0. :( 

The house I thought was the old Lipscomb house was not the house. I was off… by about 100 yards. Although it was part of the land, it wasn't the home I was looking for.

Land records show that good ole Ridenour pieced out part of Lipscomb’s land between Red Bridge Road and current 111th Street into 2 to 3 acre lots in 1937 and called it the "Homewood Ridenour Addition."

And the lot I was looking for wasn’t Lot 7 as I had thought… it was Lot 9.

My heart dropped in defeat. Determined, I followed the land records through owner after owner, wondering, hoping, and wishing, fingers crossed, that this home was still standing. Maybe I had missed it when I was rummaging around the area.

If it made it through the 1940s, there was a chance.

1948 aerial photo showing the Lipscomb house
I traced the home to a purchase in 1964 by a woman named Marianne. She lived there until she sold the home in July 1990.

And now I had an address: 11107 State Line Road.

I dropped a Google on it, and the address no longer existed.

Did she tear it down? What did she know? Was she around to tell me the story?

Of course I was going to find out. I am really good at locating people through records and research. And to my surprise, I found her through her stepson, and after a brief interlude he contacted her. She was willing to tell me her story.

I held onto the last fragments of hope I had when I picked up the phone to call her.

Marianne, now 80 years old and sharp as a tack, was more than willing to discuss her old home. She explained her old driveway ran parallel to the current 111th Street and then curved to the north. The house sat in the southeast corner of the 3 acre lot, a line of trees directly behind it.

“Well, you know that the house was Lipscomb’s slave cabin first,” Marianne stated.


She explained with explicit detail the uneven wood floor in the oldest section and how the basement timbers were made from hand-hewn wood. There was a fireplace that stood in the main living area, and under the walls, the original structure could be clearly seen.

I had to know what the original interior encompassed, as it had my imagination on overload. To think that even before Joel called this place his home, his slaves rested their tired bodies within these walls?!

Marianne continued, “It was one room on the main level and had real narrow, rickety curved steps leading upstairs, and there was only one room up there. There was a basement that had huge rocks as its foundation.”

I knew the answer, but I had to ask her. “What happened to the home after 1990?”

Marianne explained that the people that bought the home weren’t “interested” in its history. After she sold it to them, they sold it less than a year later to a man with a mission- he was going to build a mansion in its place.

So it was demolished.

In 1992.

Ahem. A slave cabin-turned farm house, over 150 years old in 1992, was destroyed?

Digest that for a minute.

Permit from Jackson County, Mo. showing the demolition
The man who bought the property knocked the house down in 1992 to make room for his mansion, now sitting vacant, at 11045 State Line Road.

Angry doesn’t even describe what I was when she confirmed my deepest suspicions.

A legacy was lost when that happened. I know who made the decision to destroy it, and they have since passed away.

We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. As Marianne told me stories of the home and shared that she kept the old farm bell from the property, it gave me hope that some things aren’t completely lost. Tearing something down that old isn't against the law….

But it should be.

This is the exact type of thing I hope my blog will help to protect from happening in the future. This log cabin sat overlooked and undetected for so many years. The house was less than 50 yards from State Line, hidden by a beautiful rose garden and a well-kept apple orchard.

2012 aerial view of the area. The star represents where the house stood.
…Under our noses, but out of our sight.

So there it fell, carried away by dumpsters. All that remains under the earth is that stone foundation left by the demolition crew, now partially covered by a large driveway.

The Lipscomb house has been leveled- and now their burial ground seems also to be erased as far as I can tell. A 1934 book published by the D.A.R. shows that at that time there were four stones clearly visible and a small fence surrounding the family cemetery.

Today this appears to be gone, erased by suburban development or untraceable… for now.

A description of the graveyard where Joel, his wife, and two children rest is described as being directly north of the house. Through my search, I am unable to locate any trace of its existence.

Landowners directly north of the homestead have been contacted by me in hopes that we could work together to find the lost burial ground of the Lipscomb’s. This land remains undeveloped, but my efforts in contacting them have been ignored.

Maybe they don’t want to acknowledge that a burial ground is possibly on the land they own. I’m sure this land was purchased to make a profit through future development.  By law, you can’t just bulldoze over a burial ground...And if you hit one, you are required to relocate the remains.  So maybe I struck a nerve.


.... Or maybe my letter was lost in the mail. 

I don't want to end this two-part story on a sour note. This family- Joel Lipscomb’s family- was paramount in the history of Jackson County, Westport and even Kansas City. The repayment for their unrequited devotion to the area is that development devoured any true and lasting trace of the Lipscomb legacy.

Current view of the driveway where the home stood
Marianne, I suppose, could sense my sincere sadness of the loss of a home she spent 25 years in. If anyone should be disappointed, it technically should be her. But life has told her otherwise- as we so quickly move on from such things.
Marianne could see that my mission and my research is genuinely guided. In one of our last conversations, she quickly added, “You know, when I sold the house, I knew no one cared about the history.”

Yeah, no kidding.

Marianne was given a book and some papers from the previous owner of the old log cabin. To my shock, she casually said, “Well, I think you should have it. No one cared to have it when I sold the house, and you seem to really care about this. It should go to you.”

Unbelievable! A lady I didn’t know and probably will never meet literally gifted me something that had been with the old home before it was destroyed.

And on my doorstop was delivered an original copy of the 1934 DAR book “Vital Historical Records of Jackson County, Missouri 1826-1876” that was saved before the home met its end. Inside includes little notes on the Lipscomb’s by previous owners and additional papers tucked in midst of the yellowed pages.

To think this little book and its contents, along with a bell that Marianne still has, is all that is left of this landmark lost upsets me more than I can even describe.

But now, a small piece has selflessly been passed onto me and will preserved and treasured. Quite honestly, it's priceless to me.

The DAR book given to me by Marianne open to the Lipscomb Family Burial Ground as well as some of the additional papers surviving from the house
What can we learn from this story?

Hopefully it captures you the way it did me and proves the importance of halting the destruction of historic places. Hopefully, you have absorbed some of the amazing stories that encompass Joel Lipscomb’s life. And maybe, just maybe, we can make sure that these legacies live on through storytelling and acknowledgement that the land we live on has had a life even before we signed a deed or were even born.

That’s been my goal all along.

The Lipscomb Legacy- His Children

William S. Lipscomb- Born in 1842, William was killed at the battle of Vicksburg at the age of 21 and is buried there.
Nathan Lipscomb- Nathan, featured throughout this post, was born in 1843 and served in the Missouri State Troops and enlisted again in Arkansas. He served in the 6th Missouri Infantry. He was present when Col. Erwin was killed and “fell back into the arms of Nathan Lipscomb, one of his most faithful soldiers.” After the war, Nathan entered the freighting business for his uncle in Nebraska City. He then returned to Jackson County, buying 135 acres of land just to the west of Martin City on the state line. He married Letitia Cantrell and had one child. He ran for sheriff and was school director. He died in 1906.
Louisa “Lou” Lipscomb Watson- Louisa was born in 1845. Following the war, she joined the Mite Society, a dramatic club, whose purpose was to raise funds for widows and children of Confederate soldiers. She married New Santa Fe’s town doctor, John Ellis Watson. He was a widow at the time and had one child. They had four children together, and long after his untimely death, Lou moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to be close to her children. She died in 1928. The house they lived in still stands just south of New Santa Fe and is known as the Watson Place Inn.
Frances Lipscomb Hickman- Born in 1847, Frances’ account is where some of this blog post originates. She married William Zere Hickman, the son of the founder of Hickman’s Mill, known today as “Hickman Mills.” Her husband was a prominent member of Jackson and Lafayette County and wrote a book called “The History of Jackson County” in 1920, featuring many stories of survival. She had four children and lived most of her life in Independence, Mo. She died in 1944 at the age of 96. 
John Harris Lipscomb- John was born in 1849 on the farm in Washington Township. His account of his father’s hanging and the aftermath of the Civil War is featured in this post. John Harris went onto get married to Dora Crumbaugh and have three children. He was a prominent lawyer and land dealer in Jackson County. He, along with E.L. Martin, saw the potential of laying out a town just southeast of New Santa Fe where the railroad crossed. In 1887, they platted the town of Tildon, renamed in 1895 to Martin City. He died in 1918 in his Kansas City home.
Rodney Bernard Lipscomb & James Lipscomb- Prominent stock raisers, Bernard and James moved to Liberal, Mo. around 1905. Both were bachelors their entire lives and “did their own housework.” Bernard died and of paralysis in 1911 and James followed in 1918.
Joel Jr, Charles Harris and Henrietta Lipscomb were all children of Joel and Henrietta's and died in infancy. All are buried at the Lipscomb burial ground.

*Although I used some poetic license with this story, the base of it comes from a firsthand account held at the Westport Historical Society of John Harris Lipscomb.

--A special thanks to the 1855 Harris-Kearney House and Museum and the Westport Historical Society for their continued assistance on facts and events.--

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